Mercadito Midtown
Tacos build strong bodies 12 different ways, and at Mercadito Taqueria Midtown, 12 different tacos have built up a nice little nest egg for Share Our Strength as part of the restaurant's Tacos for Strength benefit. Each month, the eatery gets a different chef to create a special taco for the benefit, and the 12th in the series belongs to DiLido Beach Club chef Andrew Balick, who for September came up with a braised lamb shank taco with curried Greek yogurt, pickled minted carrot salad, and crisp shoestring fries. Five percent of the proceeds go to SOS. Get there before the month is up, or you'll be SOL.
Sept. 6-30, 11 a.m., 2011
"Go, go, go shawty / It's your birthday/ We gon' party like it's yo birthday." Doesn't sound like the verse of a method actor with a sympathetic heart, but it is. Thrown into fame in 2003 with ear-worm hits like "In Da Club," Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson currently stars in Things Fall Apart. The movie, which screens at the Miami International Film Festival next week, is about a rising football star who is stricken with cancer. The rapper famously lost 54 pounds to play the gaunt-faced running back, who ends up undergoing chemotherapy instead of getting drafted by the Miami Dolphins. And in addition to co-writing and co-producing the film (which is based on the true story of one of 50's close friends), the rapper-cum-actor also contributed to the soundtrack. The G-Unit general will join the movie's Miami-born and bred producer, Randall Emmett, at the March 5th screening during the film festival.
Sat., March 5, 9:45 p.m., 2011
Hard Rock Stadium
Michele Eve Sandberg
According to the Emerald Isle’s Central Statistics Office, the average Irish male can expect to prowl around Planet Earth for about 76 years, 9 months, and 18 days.

Do you know what that means? It means that U2, as a band, is totally middle aged. (Formed in 1976, the bombastic arena rock quartet turned 35 this year.) And as individuals, the situation is even bleaker. Bono’s already 51! Ditto Adam “Bass Boy” Clayton! Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. hits the big five-oh next Halloween! And the Edge isn’t so edgy at 49!

Obviously, though, U2 ain’t dead yet. And if we do a few rough calculations, it wouldn’t be wacko to expect Bono and crew to crap out another couple of semi-conscious decades, six more mediocre albums, and an equal number of never-ending, galaxy-spanning, multimillion-dollar megatours.

So yes, it’s too early for a post-mortem. But why not get started just for fun? Read Crossfade's ten glorious, strange, and shameful moments in the very long career of U2.
Wed., June 29, 7 p.m., 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows: Robert Downey Jr. gets a Bond makeover as everyone's favorite Victorian detective

Although supplying boys' adventure thrills on the side, Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories are remarkable for how they make the process of empirical brainwork, and the resulting discoveries, breathlessly exciting. Each Holmes tale simultaneously unlocks a mystery while deepening the enigma of its hero in a miraculously sustained piece of character development. The great success of Guy Ritchie's 2009 Sherlock Holmes was making Conan Doyle's gimlet-eyed detective, first introduced to readers in 1887, into a viable 21st-century blockbuster star — a success paralleled by the superior, contemporary-set Sherlock series for BBC TV. The great compromise, aggravated in Ritchie's new Holmes adventure, was to do so at the expense of what made Conan Doyle's hero, and his world, unique.

A Game of Shadows revisits Holmes and Dr. Watson (Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, returning) on the eve of Watson's much-protested-by-Holmes wedding as a wave of assassinations and bombings rock Europe, threatening to goad France and Germany into armed confrontation. The film's finale, its villain, and not much else come from Conan Doyle's "The Final Problem." The acts of terror have been arranged by the "Napoleon of Crime," one Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), a calculating profiteer seeking to plunge Europe into world war a quarter-century ahead of schedule, whom Holmes and Watson must cross the Continent to foil.

The revelation of Moriarty's munitions-plant headquarters, the device of our hero being held hostage while the supervillain elucidates his plan for world domination, the attention devoted to technology and couture, and the tendency toward naughty double entendres ("noshing on Mary's muffins," etc.) — all of it suggests that Ritchie is more interested in bringing 007 into the Victorian period than in reintroducing Conan Doyle's distinctly Victorian eccentric to ours. (Irene Adler, the American adventuress of Conan Doyle's "A Scandal in Bohemia" whose genius for intrigue made her the one woman for whom Holmes could overcome his antipathy for the gender, is here again played by Rachel McAdams as the first "Holmes girl.")

Downey Jr., once a troubled and pitied case of self-sabotage who, at the beginning of 2001, couldn't be insured for a film, has lately proved steady enough to anchor two massive franchises: Iron Man and Holmes. Both Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark and his Holmes are flip smart alecks, radiant with the self-love that develops when accustomed to being the brightest guy in every room. Holmes is the more pleasurable role to watch, allowing Downey Jr. to use his physical grace in ways recalling his Chaplin, negotiating the world with effortless, hyperaware aplomb — a dancer in a familiar part.

Not merely held apart from the common run of humanity by the elevation of his mind, Downey Jr.'s Holmes is flamboyant in his brilliance, a shabby-elegant dandy, blithely cocking a snook at social mores rather than merely overlooking them in his farsightedness. (The traditional Holmesian aloofness is annexed in A Game of Shadows to the detective's brother, Mycroft, played by Stephen Fry in the movie's funniest performance.)

While Downey Jr. can play a manic Holmes, there is little time to witness Holmes's melancholy in the absence of action — those lulls in which Conan Doyle doled out insights into his character, and which Ritchie's films entirely jettison. A Game of Shadows repeats the first movie's inspired routines in which Holmes's racing mind runs through a strategic rehearsal of every combat before the first punch is thrown. Ritchie's assault tactics are less scientific: Keep the audience continually off balance with constant crazed flurries.

The rapport between Downey Jr. and Law, who has never located a tone for his Watson, hasn't improved since their last outing, and there's no deepening of either character beyond the playful homo subtext in an action piece that Downey Jr. spends in drag. The gamesmanship between Holmes and arch foe Moriarty is not handled much better, built around a metaphorical chess match as hackneyed as the film's subtitle.

Lackluster screenwriting and the absence of actorly communion are breezed past with monotonous banter, as is the fleetingly visible plot. Like the first Ritchie Holmes, the period production design — again by Sarah Greenwood — is lavish, ranging between the cluttered lairs of archetypal Victorian pack rat-collectors (Holmes and Moriarty's realms) and overwrought, damask-draped ornateness. It is, finally, all sauce, no meat — that is, usual multiplex stuff, extracted from a most remarkable source.

The Santaland Diaries: David Sedaris's hilarious, scathing look at the holiday shopping season

"Everyone looks retarded when you set your mind to it," exclaims Crumpet, a 45-year-old elf working the display window overlooking the throng of holiday shoppers at Macy's Santaland in New York City. It's just one of a surplus of sardonic observations made by the elf, played by a spry and mordant Michael McKeever in The Santaland Diaries at the Adrienne Arsht Center. The play, based on the collection of essays of the same name by kick-ass humorist David Sedaris, is the perfect antidote to the saccharine-filled holiday-themed cheeriness that bombards our everyday existence in movies, television, plays, parks, and, most of all, the cathedral of mawkish merriment — the shopping mall.

Through vignettes and anecdotes, the hilarious 80-minute, one-act play seeks to show the ruination of Christmas through the petty, trivial, and tired ritual of parents forcing their howling children to sit on the lap of some fat guy in a red suit, all told through the eyes of an aging man in green tights and candy-cane socks. But know that this production is more Bad Santa than How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It's clearly for parents only, unless you're cool with your kids hearing an elf say fuck and discovering that Santa is really just a bunch of minimum-wage dudes who work in shifts.

Mocking and deriding the whole enterprise with tongue pressed firmly in cheek, Santaland Diaries is dipped in sarcasm and filled with the biting social commentary and good-natured humor that has made Sedaris a huge hit.

Taken from excerpts of Sedaris's collection of essays, which the writer began reading for NPR radio in December 1992, the play recounts his true-life experiences as an elf at Macy's Santaland. Sedaris became an instant success, eventually publishing his work and vaulting to the top of best-seller lists with other books such as Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.

On a dare, Sedaris (McKeever) answers an ad in the paper and applies for a job as a Santaland elf. But the reality of the situation soon hits him with the realization he's a middle-aged guy competing for a job that will have him wearing bells and a funny hat and working long, miserable hours.

"I'm a 45-year-old man applying for a job as an elf," he laments. "And worse than applying is the possibility of not even getting hired."

Sedaris, of course, lands the job as a full-time elf and even adopts the name Crumpet (all elves are required to give themselves elfish names, as mandated in "The Elfin Guide," received during elf training).

Within the first five minutes of working his new job, a grown man tells him he "looks fucking stupid." But because he's paid to be merry and cheerful no matter what, Crumpet grits his teeth, forces a smile, and replies, "Thank you!"

And thus begins the whirling and enchanted odyssey that is working the Santaland shift as a Christmas prop for throngs of assholes and their bratty kids for an entire holiday season. "Twenty-two thousand people came to see Santa today, and not all of them are well-behaved," the elf says.

Crumpet merrily recounts some of the crazier moments on the job — such as when a man peed on Santa's lap — the foibles of the various Santas he works with ("Santa Doug spits when he talks to the kids!"), and the challenge of learning the exotic and downright weird names parents give their kids ("One kid was named Fontage; another was named Great.")

Crumpet also reveals the subtle creeping racism that some parents exhibit whenever a Santa of color is working. And he eventually loses his shit when shoppers get more insane as the Christmas shopping days count down to zero.

Yet Santaland Diaries isn't without its soft side. There's a sprinkling of the true meaning of Christmas that doesn't completely reveal itself until the final moments of the play. But it's there, reminding us that even though the majority of us act like monsters during this time of year, we all know what the season is really about. The entire production is cynicism with a heart. And the fact that someone purposely put himself through such an ordeal makes a fascinating tale with uproarious results.

The multitalented McKeever breezes across the stage with an athletic and playful dexterity that lets audience members know they're in on the joke. And his comedic timing really brings Sedaris's stinging commentary to life.

The stage design by Stuart Meltzer, who also directs, looks like a Christmas bomb went off. Ostensibly a mockup of Santaland at Macy's, there is an amalgam of fake gifts, fake snow, fake candy-cane pillars, and colored lights surrounding Santa's throne, made of fake gold.

From the blinking holiday lights accompanied by a "Hallelujah" chorus as McKeever transforms from tie-wearing guy to Crumpet the elf, to the several oversize martinis he swigs throughout the play, nothing is understated. Meltzer and McKeever make the most of the small stage to full comedic effect.

We Bought a Zoo: Matt Damon needs your love

When I told someone I was off to a screening of We Bought a Zoo the other day, the response was an eye roll. The reaction is understandable: Save for two music docs — an Elton John–Leon Russell album making-of and that Pearl Jam anniversary infomercial — Cameron Crowe has been MIA since 2005's autobiographical Elizabethtown, about the prodigal big-city son returneth to his small town to fetch his dead daddy's ashes for a long drive to nowhere. Crowe took a tanning over that weepy wreck, which made Garden State feel like early-days David Gordon Green. Both that movie and his earlier Vanilla Sky were as disappointing as they were ambitious, which is being kind on both fronts. Crowe tried going big, and he was sent home.

So now he returns with a film he did not write, but rewrote, based on the real-life story of Benjamin Mee, a Brit newspaper columnist who picked up from his idyllic new digs in the South of France and went off to rescue an English zoo with his family, including a son, a daughter, and a dying wife. The movie changes these circumstances a bit: The wife is six months gone before Benjamin (the quite-American Matt Damon), moody 14-year-old son Dylan (Colin Ford), and bright-'n'-shiny 7-year-old Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones, made for the movies) consider the move. And in the movie, they don't relocate from the French paradise to the English countryside, but from a Los Angeles suburb to the rolling hills of Southern California, where dad hopes to escape the ghost who haunts them all. And look who's here to help: Scarlett Johansson.

Crowe, who ran Aline Brosh McKenna's first draft through Word before signing on to direct someone else's life, is back to what he's good at: small stories populated by everyday people. (He has always veered toward being a small-screen guy who worked big-screen; Say Anything..., Singles, Jerry Maguire, and Almost Famous could have been prime-time pilots.) Helping Crowe's odds is Damon, who does a superior job of vacillating between wide-eyed (Look! A grizzly bear!) and misty-eyed (I wish my dead wife weren't dead) without turning Benjamin into a complete sap. We see him at the film's beginning as an "adventure writer" for the Los Angeles Times, flying into the center of storms, and asking terrorists cutesy questions to which the answer is "Toy Story 2." But soon, Dylan is expelled from school (his drawings are violent, and he's stealing, and, oh, sorry about your dead mom) and Benjamin is about to get shuffled off to the blogs by his boss, so, time to go house-hunting. And now time to buy a dilapidated zoo on the verge of being shuttered and sold for the land alone. It's populated with lions, tigers, and bears — and humans too, among them Johansson as the longtime zookeeper (well, assistant, but shhh), Angus Macfadyen as a visionary enclosure designer, and Elle Fanning as an angel-faced love interest for Dylan. We didn't just buy a zoo; we bought a new family! So Crowe.

On the surface, it all sounds so terribly mawkish, and I haven't even mentioned the on-the-nose soundtrack that cues up Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" during a long storm. Or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "Don't Come Around Here No More" when Dylan gets the boot from school. Or Wilco and Billy Bragg's "Airline to Heaven" when the Mees begin looking for new digs. Or Benjamin's reluctance to let the zookeepers put down, painlessly, the ailing 17-year-old tiger aching for an adios. We get it — he has been down this awful road before.

The cynic will scoff and dismiss it all as manipulative, the heart-string-tugging machine on hyperdrive. But this movie isn't for them; did you not see the PG? It's a sweet, sincere, utterly affable kids' movie about how parents are all kinds of screwed up and unable to tell them what they want or show them how they feel. The scene in which Benjamin and Dylan have their hallway shout-off ("Help me, damn it! Help me!") is as wrenching as it is inevitable. And Damon has never been more lovable — the guy looks like he could use a hug.

Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre
Photo by Diego Pocovi
We don’t have a problem with hair-hoppers, unless they’re sitting in front of us during the Actors’ Playhouse production of Hairspray at the Miracle Theatre. Set in 1962 Baltimore during the height of the segregation and integration conflicts, Hairspray tells the story of racism through one dancing, cake-loving teen’s eyes. Tracy Turnblad, played by University of Miami grad and New York-based actress Joline Mujica, wins a spot on The Corny Collins Show, a local TV dance program. She quickly becomes a teen icon, but she’s vexed that the hit show refuses to integrate. Having been subjected to discrimination throughout her pudgy young life (she’s initially scoffed at on the dance show because of her plus-size thighs), the moon-faced teen decides to stand up to prejudice and fight for an interracial dance floor. Creative director David Arisco has bravely taken on the jobs of both directing the show and playing Turnblad’s heavyset mom, Edna, a role played by drag queen Divine in the 1988 John Waters original.
Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Oct. 12. Continues through Nov. 13, 2011
It’s amazing what a good director can do. The story behind Southern District (Zona Sur) could have easily been turned into a Spanish telenovela. But in the capable hands of filmmaker Juan Carlos Valdivia, it became a Sundance Film Festival award-winning film highly regarded for its innovative direction and sublime script. The film tells the story of an upper-class family living in a swanky Bolivian suburb, Zona Sur, well aware that the times are changing. Characters that would otherwise lend themselves to cheesy melodrama — a ruling matriarch, an oversexed son, a sullen daughter, and a wandering six-year-old — take on a fresh and layered life. In a country where the old guard (the aristocracy) is being steadily overcome by the country’s indigenous natives who are resurging, the political arena is tumultuous. But Southern District is as much a political commentary as it is a social one. Catch it while you can — Coral Gables Art Cinema (260 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables) is the only American theater showing it thus far.
Sun., Jan. 30, 7 p.m.; Mon., Jan. 31, 8:30 p.m.; Tue., Feb. 1, 6:30 p.m.; Wed., Feb. 2, 8:30 p.m.; Thu., Feb. 3, 8:30 p.m., 2011
Summer heat and humidity: bad. Summer fruit: good. Rare tropical fruit samples at the Redland Summer Fruit Festival: even better. There are local wines and food too, plus the chance to nibble on fruititarian delicacies that our nontropical countrymen can only dream about. Just cruise down to Homestead's Fruit & Spice Park Saturday and Sunday, June 11 and 12, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fork over a miserly eight bucks (kids under 11 get in free) and it's all yours.
June 11-12, 10 a.m., 2011

A Guide to Trashing Taxpayers

Miami is a great place to throw away public money. This is spectacularly apparent to the 108,500 folks on the Dolphin Expressway who pass the new Marlins stadium every day. The cost to taxpayers on that one: $2.4 billion. We'll be paying it off for the next 40 years.

But at least million-dollar ball players will have somewhere to pitch and catch when the park is opened next year. There's far more taxpayer-funded, politically suspect stuff that's less visible.

Indeed, our leaders are nationally renowned innovators when it comes to building expensive, lamebrained monuments to irrelevance. There's a kiddie park in east Kendall that no one can park near. Or how about the nine-mile bicycle path between downtown and South Miami that almost no one rides on? Hey, what about that two-story landmark in Hialeah that you can't even walk inside because it has no rooms. Or the new $51 million cultural arts center that just opened in Cutler Bay? It's just 30 minutes from a relatively new performing arts center that cost a cool half-billion.

Don't the guys who fund this stuff realize unemployment is at a record high, our homes are worth half what they were just a few years ago, and governments are laying off cops and firefighters?

What are they? Dumb?

To assess their level of ignorance, New Times rounded up six prominent critics and asked them to name the worst examples of public works projects that serve little or no purpose. We'll guide readers through the genesis of these taxpayer-funded catastrophes and describe how much money has been flushed down the commode. We've also invited online readers to submit picks for worst government-funded endeavors at riptidemiami.com. Now join us on a ride through the fruits of your tax dollars.

Metrorail M-Path

Year built: 1984

Cost: $266,945

What's dumb about it: Throws good money after bad.

Why it was built: To create the illusion that Miami is friendly to pedestrians and cyclists.

It's afternoon rush hour this past October 28. We count three people traveling on the 27-year-old, nine-mile strip of pavement known as the M-Path, which runs mostly along busy South Dixie Highway, from the mouth of the Miami River to Red Road. There's one guy on a royal-blue Schwinn near the Coconut Grove Metrorail station and a woman pushing a stroller with a baby at the Douglas Road station. Although the M-Path was designed with cyclists and pedestrians in mind, most days you'd be hard-pressed to find either. That's because of heavy vehicular traffic and a gauntlet of 21 dangerous intersections. There aren't even signs warning drivers to slow down or stop at crosswalks.

Most cyclists avoid the M-Path. "Last time I was on it was three months ago," Miami Bike Scene blogger Rydel Deed says. "On days you ride the M-Path, you can't let your guard down. The M-Path sucks."

Transit Miami blogger Tony Garcia, another critic, says the M-Path shows that planners give priority to motorists. "Our transportation system tends to be mediocre when it comes to all other modes besides cars." The path could be great for nonmotorists, but "it seems like it goes nowhere," he says.

Now transportation officials are wasting $4.5 million more. They are building a pedestrian bridge that will link the M-Path at Red Road to the Dadeland North Metrorail station and the South Dade Trail, a million-dollar, 20-mile urban path to Florida City. The bridge is slated to open in December.

Wrong solution, Deed says. Try crosswalks. "At the very least, paint the crosswalks green so people in cars can see there is a path in front of them," he suggests. "That is something that is so inexpensive to do. I'd rather have that than spend millions on a bridge."

Marc Sarnoff's Traffic Circle

Year built: 2007

Cost: $127,000

What's dumb about it: It's designed so poorly that school buses can't navigate it without backing up at least twice.

Why it was built: A city commissioner's self-serving pet project.

In 2001, Marc Sarnoff was president of the Center Coconut Grove Homeowners Association. He complained to city and county road planners that he needed a circle to slow traffic in front of his two houses. Their response: The four-way stop at Virginia Street and Shipping Avenue was doing a fine job. Six years later, newly elected Commissioner Sarnoff made the circle one of his top priorities.

He was required to gather signatures from two-thirds of the residents on Shipping and Virginia. But that proved too difficult, so Sarnoff found an end run: Mary Conway, who at the time was Miami's chief of operations. In sworn testimony in an unrelated criminal probe, Conway said Sarnoff was "always supportive" and had once offered her a job on his staff. Perhaps to show her appreciation, she tacked funding for the traffic circle onto an unrelated street-closure project in 2007 without obtaining the signatures. Even worse, the money came from a sales tax meant to improve public transportation.

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Michelle Niemeyer, a lawyer who ran against Sarnoff and lost in the most recent election, says the traffic circle serves no purpose other than to enhance the values of the commissioner's homes. "He doesn't have trucks going by there anymore," Niemeyer says, noting the circle is too small for the intersection. "As soon as they drew the outline of where the circle was going, I knew there wasn't enough room for it," she says. "Now that it is finally built, it is even more obvious. It even feels tight going around in my little car."

Hialeah Landmark and Fountain

Year built: 2005

Cost: $411,848.56

What's dumb about it: You can't enter this building because it serves no other purpose than being a six-figure backdrop for a fountain.

Why it was built: Longtime Mayor Raul Martinez wanted a monument celebrating his power.

During the '80s and '90s, a coral rock fountain on a grassy patch at SE Fourth Street and Okeechobee Road was a rallying point for Hialeah political candidates. Signs for council contenders Jimmy Gunn and Silvio Cardoso as well as the city's then-on-the-rise mayor, Raul Martinez, littered the city-owned property, which is conveniently located at a major entrance to Hialeah. On weekends, Martinez, his allies, and their opponents would stand in front of the fountain and wave to passing, honking motorists. "In 1983, this was the place to be," Martinez says. "It was a prime corner." The site's political history gave el alcalde (now in a runoff to regain his job) the excuse to erect an expensive monument to greet residents and visitors entering La Ciudad Que Progresa.

Today, driving west on Okeechobee Road, you can't miss the two-story pale-yellow structure. The Mediterranean-style building, which features two sentry towers and a stone fountain, is an oddity among the rows of low-rent motels and warehouses. It is a gargantuan reminder of the generosity of Hialeah taxpayers. In the original budget, the city figured $20,000 was enough to cover the railings and other metal work, and $23,010 would buy all the stucco needed for construction. Wrong. The city council had to approve an extra $12,700 to finish the structure. Add expenses beyond materials, and the project cost more than $400,000.

When the plaza was completed six years ago, Martinez hailed it as a monument to the diversity of Hialeah's Cuban residents, from recently arrived balseros to older exiles. "We are proud of the city of Hialeah," he said, "and we sometimes tend to forget that." Yet the plaza is no visitor attraction. There are no sidewalks that invite folks to walk up to the structure to take pictures. There is no parking either. You can't even enter to enjoy the view from the second-floor terrace. It is a six-figure waste of taxpayer money brought to you by the city's once and future ruler.

Miami Gardens Park-and-Ride Lot

Year built: 2011

Cost: $1.8 million

What's dumb about it: Motorists rarely park at the lot to ride a Metrobus.

Why it was built: To persuade drivers to abandon their cars for the public transit system.

It's a balmy morning this past November 1. Bernardo Rodriguez peddles a red BMX bicycle on busy NW 73rd Avenue at Miami Gardens Drive past a chainlink fence with a banner that reads, "Park & Ride Lot now open, serving bus routes 73, 99, 183, and 286." One sedan, a truck, and a rusty station wagon are the only vehicles in the 150-space lot.

"Nobody here," he says. "Ever." During an hour that New Times spends at the lot during rush hour, a total of four people show up.

In 2006, taxpayers shelled out $1.8 million for the two-acre lot. It was supposed to persuade neighbors in this moderately affluent suburban neighborhood to abandon their vehicles and ride public transit to Aventura or Dadeland. A new express bus could even take them to the Palmetto Metrorail station or southwest Broward County.

It took five years to complete the project. Since July, when it opened, the lot has been virtually empty. The $1.8 million provides for an average of 36 riders per day, county records show. That's about $72 per day in fares, meaning it will take somewhere around 70 years to repay the expense, even if you don't account for the cost of buses. And that express bus to Broward? Killed due to budget cuts.

"It just went up, out of the blue," says Barbara Hagen, a 66-year-old Country Club of Miami homeowner. "The only people I have seen parking there go to the IHOP next to it." She and several neighbors protested the county's use of the two acres for a parking lot when the issue arose in 2006. "The transit department assured us the lot was going to serve the area near I-75 that was being developed," she says. "If they had express buses going to the airport and seaport in Fort Lauderdale or going to Naples, the lot would make sense. That would be revolutionary. But they don't."

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Miami-Dade Transit spokeswoman Karla Damien explains it took five years to complete the lot because the county was required to get approval from Florida Power & Light to build on top of underground electrical utility equipment as well as near power lines.

Indeed, the Miami Gardens lot is the second-worst performing of 11 park-and-ride bus facilities that the transit agency operates. Thirty-six riders board buses here each day compared to the 2,107 who use the Golden Glades Interchange lot, nine miles away. The agency does not break down how many of those riders actually arrive in a vehicle. The worst one, by the way, is located at Kendall Drive and SW 150th Avenue, with only 15 riders a day.

The Miami Gardens spot could be a park or maybe used for YMCA parking overflow. "Right now, it's useless," Hagen says.

Golden Glades Flyover

Year built: 1995

Cost: $50 million

What's dumb about it: You pay five bucks in tolls to be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic with a view of the Miami and Aventura skylines.

Why it was built: For carpoolers. But really, does South Florida have any?

Throughout the '80s, local and state transportation experts fiddled with plans to rebuild the Golden Glades Interchange, which creates a traffic bottleneck from the bowels of Mordor as thousands of drivers attempt to enter Florida's Turnpike, the Palmetto Expressway, and I-95. Originally, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) proposed replacing the winding loops of the Golden Glades with a five-level interchange. But because of the $534 million price tag, that plan has been collecting dust for more than three decades. Instead, the FDOT paid $23,000 per yard — yes, per yard — to build a temporary Band-Aid: a 94-foot-high, mile-long, two-lane bridge on I-95 for carpoolers.

When the flyover finally opened in 1995 after two years of construction, South Florida carpoolers rejoiced. They zoomed across the bridge, laughing at the poor suckers driving alone in rush-hour traffic. Yet a transportation spokesman named David Fierro told reporters the project in the near future was "not going to be able to handle all the traffic."

Then in 2008, the FDOT came up with the bright idea of spending another $122 million to restripe the high-occupancy-vehicle lanes into exclusive toll lanes, allegedly to further limit the number of drivers. Yet motorists in these lanes often find themselves moving slower than fellow travelers who aren't paying tools. Last year, commuters complained to the Miami Herald they were shelling out $4.50 or more for the privilege of being immobile on the flyover. One driver described the experience as "infuriating" and "grossly unfair." The I-95 express lanes are now carrying 50,000 to 60,000 cars a day, according to figures released by the FDOT last year. Officials acknowledge that travel slows when more cars are crammed into these lanes.

South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center

Year built: 2011

Cost: $51 million

What's dumb about it: The county already spent $483 million to build a performing arts center in downtown Miami.

Why it was built: All politics is local — and much of it is foolish.

In 1993, one year after Hurricane Andrew leveled South Miami-Dade, county Commissioner Dennis Moss insisted construction of a South Dade cultural center was an essential part of his blueprint to stimulate economic development in his storm-ravaged district.

Soon, the county hired Arquitectonica International, one of the nation's best-known design firms, to devise a plan for the performance hall and activity center. "This is a very exciting project," principal Bernardo Fort-Brescia gushed. "For us to do a building that represents culture in our community, it's a real treat." Yippee for you, Bernardo! Pretty sure the $2.9 million Arquitectonica made on the deal was a huge incentive too.

When Moss introduced his plan, the center would cost taxpayers $31 million. But the county didn't have the funding in place. Officials were more focused on the project that would become the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, which was plagued by cost overruns and delays. Finally, in late 2007, the county hired a contractor, the Tower Group, to build the South Dade center. By then, the project's cost had almost doubled to $51 million. Worse, an investigation in 2009 by the Miami-Dade Inspector General concluded Tower was responsible for $2.3 million in cost overruns and delays. The builder blamed the county's Cultural Affairs Department, which oversaw construction. Tower and county officials are still haggling over repayment.

The 966-seat South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center finally had a soft opening this past April. County commissioners allocated $1.25 million to the center's programming budget this year. But the place will have a tough time filling seats. For the past year, the Arsht Center has sold only 82 percent and 66 percent of its tickets for the Broadway in Miami series and Arsht-exclusive events, respectively. Resident companies such as the Miami City Ballet, Florida Grand Opera, and New World Symphony have fared worse, selling 65 percent of their tickets, a decrease from the 2006 season, when the Arsht Center opened. During that time, the Concert Association of Florida also went bankrupt. To operate, the Arsht drains more than $8 million annually from Miami-Dade's coffers.

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Watchdog Report publisher Dan Ricker, who has monitored the construction and operation of both cultural facilities, believes it will be impossible for the county to continue to subsidize both venues. "In a down economy, will there be money for programming all the smaller cultural centers and the mother ship in downtown Miami?" Ricker ponders. "I'm worried."

Sunkist Park

Year built: 2011

Cost: $350,000

What's dumb about it: It's a playground that parents can't drive their kids to.

Why it was built: To get rid of a trash dump.

The county's parks and recreation department decided in 2009 to spruce up a less-than-one-acre lot after complaints from Carla Ascencio-Savola, who at the time was chairwoman of the community council that represents East Kendall. "It had become an eyesore," Ascencio-Savola says, adding that residents began using the property as a dump after Hurricane Wilma in 2005. So she persuaded Carlos Gimenez, then a commissioner, to allocate funds for a small park.

With $350,000 in taxpayer cash, the county spared no expense in transforming the lot into Sunkist Park, a pristine green space at 8401 SW 64th St. in a residential neighborhood. The landscape is filled with pine trees and sabal palms, as well as other shrubs meant to replicate the pine rockland you can find for free a few miles to the west in the Everglades. A rubber-padded playground and swing set share space with a winding concrete walkway. The county even enlisted noted Miami landscape architect Leticia Fernandez-Beraud and biologists from Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden to help design the place.

Yet for all the money spent, no one thought about including parking. So parents have to haul in their brood on foot. On a recent Saturday afternoon, prime playtime, the park was empty during a 30-minute visit. From the street, it looks like a nice, tree-lined sidewalk.

South Miami resident Rob Pierre believes the county should have simply cleared the garbage. "They call Sunkist 'the last vestige of the pineland preserve,'" Pierre scoffs. "It's all hogwash. If the county wanted to build a playground for kids, a sandbox would have sufficed."

Port Tunnel

Year built: Currently under construction

Cost: $1 billion and counting

What's dumb about it: It will wreak havoc on

Biscayne Bay and the MacArthur Causeway.

Why it was built: To mitigate container truck traffic.

The premise behind the project doesn't hold water. Since the '80s, city, county, and state leaders have touted the tunnel as the best way to remove big-rig trucks entering the Port of Miami from the streets of downtown Miami. Despite warnings from skeptical politicians such as county Commissioner Joe Martinez that the tunnel could become Miami's version of the Big Dig, the Boston tunnel project that cost five times the original price, it is moving at full-bore. But consider: The Port of Miami has lost cargo and cruise business to Port Everglades in Broward. Truck traffic at Miami's port has dropped from 32,000 vehicles in 1991 to 19,000 today. Last year, truckers told New Times the problem is not the streets of downtown Miami, but the slow entrance to the port's heavily secured docks.

Alejandro Arrieta, who owns Delta Line International, a shipping line that has been in business for a decade, said delays have more do to with Homeland Security screenings and union labor than traffic. "We all know the Port of Miami is the most inefficient on the East Coast," Arrieta lamented. "That's not going to change with the tunnel."

The tunnel project never would have gotten off the ground if it weren't for President Barack Obama. The commander in chief's economic stimulus package provided the final $100 million to get the tunnel, um, off the ground. Construction began this past August when the $45 million boring machine nicknamed "Harriet" began digging through the limestone beneath the MacArthur Causeway. The tunnel should really be renamed the Great Make Work Act of 2011. County leaders boast it will create 400 jobs during its construction.

Environmental activist Alan Farago says the project isn't worth the damage it will cause to nearby coral and the Biscayne Aquifer. He notes the dredging company is using unidentified polymers to fortify the crumbly limestone. "How much polymer is going to be used?" Farago wonders. "What is the effect of unleashing carcinogens into the bay? If there are toxic agents being introduced, who is going to stop the project?"

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Nobody is going to stop it, no matter what the cost, dummy!

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